secret clever name (3jane) wrote in rphurtsmybrain,
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Fic: "Black and White, Still" (Leni Riefenstahl/Peter O'Toole)

Black and White, Still
by Jane St Clair
6 February 2005

Peter O'Toole/Leni Riefenstahl
Rating: R

Timeline: Takes place in late 1962 or early 1963

For those who need an illustrated catch-up on Riefenstahl's career, I recommend her official site.


He's met people who were blacklisted. You see them sometimes, in Hollywood, walking around with hunched shoulders and pretending to be other people. They sit in corners typing out scripts that wouldn't ever have their names appended. They never have the price of lunch. Most of them drink.

He drinks too. He's been told it makes him good company.

And suddenly he's a wealthy man. Not massively wealthy, and probably not permanently wealthy, but he has money in his pocket and in his bank account, and David's film (his film, thank you) has done so stunningly well that he's suddenly a recognizable face even in America. One shouldn't have to stand for that sort of thing. He spent months in Jordan and Morocco turning into a man who rose to fame through American film. And then went mad. He should be coping better.

Nonsense. Actors are all madmen. It's why they never become world leaders.

So he takes a small vacation. Goes down into Africa, to see the sights and drink with the locals. There are only two movie houses operating in Nairobi, and neither of them is showing David's film. He's told it's because the natives are restless enough. They don't need to be inspired to freedom-fighting. In other colonies, they already are. There are places in Africa he's been advised not to go.

Kenya is a lovely country. Very . . . stable.

Wonderful hotels here. Palm trees in the corners and slow ceiling fans. Every so often he has to fight down the urge to drag some poor boy in off the street and ply him with lemonade in the bar.

Bloody David. Bloody Katherine for bringing him to bloody David and making him bloody rich and famous.

Fucking wonderful drinks they mix here.

The selection of mostly-British tourists in the bar mixes men and women. Sunhats and white trousers. Men from plantations drift in for a drink and then leave, none accompanied by their wives. Perhaps the women of the local population don't care to drink in public.

A few American women's eyes follow him. One set of vividly European blue ones. Floral sundress falling off one shoulder and sun-freckles and wild blonde hair. She must be twice his age. She's smoking.

He needs a cigarette immediately.

"You are, easily, the most beautiful boy I've seen in years." Cigarette-voice rasp. German accent.

"Thank you."

"You aren't good at taking compliments."

"I didn't think I was doing badly."

"How long has everyone been finding you lovely?"

"About six months." Snort. "I'm not feeling gentlemanly. May I have a cigarette?"

"Definitely. Sit."

Cigarettes and alcohol have made him the man he is today. He can't help but appreciate a woman who shares that love with him. He's been glared at by a few mission-bound women in the lobby; he can do without the judgement.

He smokes two more of her cigarettes before she tells him to stop. "If you keep smoking like that, you won't be a lovely boy much longer."

"I'll take the risk."

She pours him another drink. Then several more. He thinks she's probably drinking too, but he's not sure.

He rather likes her legs. Every bone and tendon in her stands out under her tan.

He isn't surprised to find himself buying her dinner. Soft band music in the hotel. Tribal music outside. Insects buzz on the other side of mesh and shutters. He started loving African heat during filming, and now he can't stop. He's deeply drunk. Maybe in love.

Two in the morning when she says, "You should come out with me. I'm going back to the rift valley tomorrow. To work."

"You don't look like a missionary."

"I'm not. I'm a photographer."

Mostly naked and not very awake in her bedroom, he decides he adores older women. They don't gush. She knows who he is, he's sure she does, but she either isn't impressed with his celebrity or she isn't interested in American celebrity. In other ways . . . he'd like to think she's impressed with him. He spent a lot of time paying attention to her skin, during the night. She smells like dry air and dust, and he had to restrain himself from quoting Lawrence to her. Wonderful words the man wrote about the smell of the desert. She smells like that.

He knows she likes the lines of his body. Not just during sex, either. As soon as there was enough light (at six o'clock exactly, because they're balanced on the equator and apparently you can tell time by the light here all year round), she pulled her camera out. Consulted a bag of films, chose one.

Shot his body. Under the sheet, then peeled it back and shot the rest of him. She likes the colour of his skin, but he suspects she's shooting in black and white, because she keeps muttering in German, and the only words he can catch are "shadows" and "damn it."

Turns him around, finally, and poses him curled in on himself. Maybe he should have expected that. In the months since David's film made him famous, every woman he meets wants to strip him down to sobbing, naked terror and see him curled up fetal before she's willing to fuck him.

She rubs a hand down his back when she's finished. Chuckles when he shivers.

Travelling with her is remarkable. She has a couple of assistants and a fairly significant tribal following. When they stop for fuel, halfway across the country, the man at the petrol station has a cousin whose husband worked with her on her last project.

They have to wait while she takes pictures of the children playing in the station's shade. Peter leans against the truck and watches the stark line of her shoulderblade where her dress cuts down in the back.

Masai country. She earned some kind of place here, a long time ago. She's accepted. He is too, but he suspects they think he's her son. They're same golden-blond, though her colour is a rinse. They're both white. And what else could he possibly be doing with her?

She rides him, on her camp bed in the dark. Holds a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet.

Drives out with him in the dark. The Masai get up before the sun, but they're out of camp before even the Masai are risen. She takes him out into the grasslands and strips him down. Paints ochre over his naked body. He's too pale for this. He doesn't have her gorgeous lines.

He's not the photographer.

Very early morning light while she takes his picture. Watches somewhat impassively while he tries to rub the ochre off, fails, and settles for pulling his shirt back on over it. He'll look bloody by the time they get back.

He says, "I'm never going to work with you, am I?"

"I don't make movies anymore." She shrugs a little.

He knows who she is. She won't ever work in America, or even England, but there must be somewhere. . .

She says, "Let it go."

Drives him back to camp. Watches her assistants pack his suitcase and hands it to him. Kisses him once and puts him on a truck back to Nairobi. He spends most of the trip drinking. Her assistant doesn't seem to expect him to do anything else.

His shirt is ruined. The hotel laundry tries twice to rinse the ochre away and fails both times. He throws it away.

Someone steals it out of his trash. On his way to the Nairobi airport, he sees a child running alongside the road in a formerly-white Englishman's shirt stained red along the back.

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